Harvest Trail Inquiry

picture of tractor picking fruit on the harvest trailHarvest Trail Report

We recently released our Harvest Trail Inquiry report, which details the results of our review of workplace arrangements on the Harvest Trail. We started this work in response to employee and community concerns that the FWO had received about non-compliance with Australian workplace laws.

Download the Harvest Trail Inquiry Report (PDF 9.7MB) (DOCX 6.2MB) for more information.

Every year, seasonal harvest workers follow the ‘Harvest Trail’ of ripening fruit, vegetables and other crops around Australia. From January grape picking in the Hunter Valley to autumn apples in Tasmania, October mangoes in the Northern Territory and cherries at Christmas time, the horticulture and viticulture industries employ many travellers and seasoned harvesters.

The horticulture sector is key area of focus for FWO. Our experience of working with employers and employees in the horticulture industry has shown there is often:

  • confusion about employer obligations, including how to use piece rate agreements
  • a lack of understanding about grower’s obligations when using a labour hire service.
  • Read the results of our Harvest Trail Inquiry Report (PDF 9.7MB) (DOCX 6.2MB), including what we did, the key findings and the resulting compliance and enforcement outcomes. We also have tips and useful information for both employees and employers working on the harvest trail.

    Harvest Trail Inquiry Report

    Our Harvest Trail Inquiry started in August 2013. We focused on visiting and revisiting Harvest Trail regions to help employers and employees understand their workplace rights and obligations.

    We looked at issues such as:

    • minimum wages and conditions, including piece rates
    • record keeping and pay slips
    • labour hire and supply chain issues.

    Some of the discoveries we made during our Harvest Trail Inquiry include:

    • misuse of piece rates
    • a negative impact where labour hire arrangements were used illegally
    • low consumer awareness and unwillingness to pay more for ‘domestic fair trade’ produce contributes to exploitation.

    The Harvest Trail Inquiry Report details our efforts and what we found out during this period.

    Download the full Harvest Trail Inquiry Report (PDF 9.7MB) (DOCX 6.2MB)

    Where we went

    During the inquiry, we visited businesses across Australia. These visits were in response to intelligence such as requests for assistance and anonymous tip-offs.

    Use the interactive map bellow to see which locations we visited.


    You can also download the list of locations visited (DOCX 138.7KB).

    What we did

    Read about some of the work completed as part of the Harvest Trail Campaign and Inquiry:

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    Top tips for backpackers and seasonal workers

    Even though the Inquiry is over, we’ll still be involved with the horticulture sector to provide tips and useful information for both employees and employers working in the harvest trail.

    We have some simple tips for backpackers and seasonal workers to help them understand their workplace rights and obligations while working on the harvest trail.

    Be careful when finding work

    Take the time to find an ethical and legitimate provider that pays correctly and doesn’t try to take advantage of you.

    They must pay money for the work you do. Don’t accept offers of 'paid in-kind' (for example, with goods such as food).

    Avoid work arrangements with people who meet you at regional airports or bus depots. You may be approached with promises of guaranteed work picking fruit or vegetables, along with accommodation and transport.

    Don't respond to questionable advertisements where there is only a first name and a mobile phone number provided. Legitimate providers will advertise for workers through more formal media such as newspapers or agencies.

    Know who you are working for – ask the question. What is the business name and Australian Business Number (ABN)?

    Know what you should be paid

    For picking fruit or vegetables, or pruning, you should be paid at least $23.66 an hour if you’re working on a casual hourly basis.

    If you’re on a piece work agreement your pay rate has to allow the average competent employee to earn at least 15% more per hour than the relevant minimum hourly rate in the award, which works out to be $26.50 for a casual employee.

    You may get paid less if you work slowly or are still learning.

    Visit the Piece rates page and select the Horticulture award from the filter to find out how to calculate piece work rates. 

    Keep your own work records

    Pay slips and record-keeping are important for making sure you're being paid the correct wages and getting your employee entitlements. Keep a diary of the hours you work, the places you work and the type of work you are doing. Our Record My Hours app can help you record and store the hours you work, plus other information about your employment.

    The Australian Government has established a Harvest Trail Guide. The guide seeks to link legitimate labour hire providers with growers and provides a range of other information across all regions of Australia. Download the Harvest Trail Guide on the Harvest JobSearch website external-icon.png or call the National Harvest Trail hotline on 1800 062 332.

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    Labour hire – what growers need to know

    Engaging labourers through a third party contractor can seem like an easy option. However, there are risks that growers need to manage.

    Contracting out labour for a very low price may result in employees throughout the supply chain missing out on basic rights like minimum wages, penalties, loadings, overtime, allowances and leave.

    It may also mean the contractor is engaging in sham contracting arrangements with sub contractors to avoid their legal responsibilities as an employer.

    If the price of a proposed contract seems too good to be true, it probably is.

    Why should growers care about what happens in their supply chain?

    Choosing the contractor who offers the lowest price without looking more closely and asking questions about how they can offer such low prices can:

    • damage a business’s reputation and the reputation of a whole growing region
    • expose growers to financial penalties if workplace laws are breached.

    We are relying on growers and their communities to help us uncover rogue contractors and make sure they are following Australian workplace laws. Contact us to report rogue contractors.

    For information about why you should manage your labour contracting, and tips and tools to help you, visit our Contracting labour and supply chains section.

    Labour hire checklist

    Ask a potential labour hire contractor:

    • What is your ABN?
    • How are you hiring your workers?
    • How are you going to pay your employees?
      • How much?
      • How often?
      • Will you give them pay slips?
      • Do you know which award will cover them?

    Growers should make sure they have a written contract with their labour hire contractor outlining what is expected of the contractor, in particular that they will employ employees in line with Australian workplace laws.

    You should also check any state requirements as some states have laws where labour hire providers are required to have an appropriate licence. Read about state Labour hire licensing laws in our Library to find out if they apply to you.

    Find out more about sham contracting laws on our Independent contractors page.

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    Download information for fruit and vegetable pickers in your language:

    Source reference: Fair Work Act 2009 s.550 external-icon.png

Help for small business

  • Contact the small business helpline for quick and easy access to our advisers and workplace relations information. Call the helpline on 13 13 94 and press option 3
  • Find tools, resources and information you might need on our Small business page.

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